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Local SeaGal to enjoy encore performance
Three years ago, Stephanie Stennes went into auditions for the Seattle Seahawks SeaGals not knowing what to expect. No one knows what to expect going in. More than 200 women, many already with years of experience as high school cheerleaders, congregate at CenturyLink Field each year to try for the pros. Stennes, of Buckley, made it that first year, and she’s earned the spot again three seasons since.
“It’s hard to say, but I would say most of the girls stay three, four seasons with the team,” Stennes said. “It’s such a unique experience, most girls who make the team won’t want to leave after just a year.”
Stennes soon learned that the competition of high school cheer is replaced entirely by support for the football team through showmanship and community outreach.
“You have to attend promotions, speak, sing, and there are even responsibilities with how you carry yourself,” she said. “A lot more is expected of you. You have to be more intelligent, have more personality, and more poise.”
Stennes was invited to join the SeaGals’ show group in her third season, and she will return to show group this season. Show group can be thought of as the elite upper echelon of an NFL cheer team. The girls from show group are the ones sent out on tour stops outside of the state and outside the country, often to boost the morale of American soldiers stationed abroad. Stennes has been told to anticipate stops in Kosovo, Djibouti and Paris, among other destinations, in the coming year.
It’s through show group that Stennes took on a new personal challenge: singing.
“I’m a person who likes to challenge myself,” she said. “I told my coach it was something I wanted to do, I worked on it, and I recently performed vocally for the first time. It’s the only time I had ever been nervous before performing in front of people.”
A cheerleader’s calendar is a full calendar. Everyone attends practices twice a week at a time arranged to accommodate most work schedules; that doesn’t include show group practice. On game day, cheerleaders must be on hand five hours beforehand to prep, practice and promote the match-up. Additionally, SeaGals are obligated to represent the team at five to six scheduled promotional events a month, be it golf tournament, charity auction or poster signing. Cheerleaders tend to work out whenever they can fit it in, and try to make the hard work stick by eating a healthy diet, Stennes said.
Stennes instructs Zumba and Pilates classes, and picks up hours at a restaurant. Some of the girls have even more demanding schedules, replete with kids and a full-time job. Add that to the fact that a SeaGals spot is never guaranteed from year-to-year, and it becomes clear that pro cheerleading is a demanding lifestyle.
“But it’s such a rare opportunity,” Stennes said. “There’s all this adrenaline out on the field, you get to meet wonderful girls, experience traveling the world, performing for thousands of people. It’s the most amazing feeling. There’s nothing like it.”
But will she attempt it again for a fifth season and beyond?
“It’s hard to make that decision at the beginning of the year,” she said. “It’s hard to walk away from it once you’ve been on the team one season. But you never know what a year will have in store for you, so it’s better not to have expectations too early.”